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Should You Take Your Toddler to a Funeral?

Should You Take Your Toddler to a Funeral?

Of the many quandaries parents of young children can find themselves facing, whether or not to take your toddler to a funeral is one that few of us are prepared for when it does come up. Faced with this sort of decision, or even with the more likely need that at some point you'll have to explain the death of a relative or pet to a young child, what should you consider?

Circle of Moms members have widely divergent views on the funeral question. Katie M. says she regrets taking her child to a funeral and that she wouldn't do so again. She explains, "When I think back, it pains me so much that she went through all that." But Desiree R. says that everyone needs to learn that death is a normal part of life and that there is nothing wrong with expressing emotion for someone you love.

At What Age Can a Child Understand Death?

Experts say that when a loved one dies, it's important that adults share their emotions with young children. In his book on child development, Touchpoints, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton says, "Trying to shield them from the parents' own feelings of loss or depression can be disastrous." He argues that it's better for a child to learn about death from a parent than to be given a misleading reason for someone's sudden disappearance. 

Even toddlers can be spoken to about this emotional subject in language they can understand. Erin B. told her son that their loved one "went bye-bye," as this was the language he understood. Jenni F. suggested a poetic version of this conversation: "Go out at night and pick the brightest star in the sky and tell him that is his grandma watching him."

Being Included Matters

My own toddler, Olin, hasn't yet been exposed to death, with the exception of the occasional squashed insect. So he wouldn't understand what was going on at a funeral. But he would be completely plugged in to the emotions of those in attendance. And he gets really upset when he sees his parents or friends crying or unhappy. That said, you have to begin somewhere, and I like to include him in important events; it just feels right for him to be there.

I tend to agree with Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, a grief expert and founder of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, who says that children, no matter how young, should be allowed to attend an event as significant as a funeral. He says that "the funeral may seem unimportant now, [but] think what that inclusion will mean to her later.... She will feel good knowing that instead of being home with a babysitter, she was included in this meaningful ritual."

Have you ever taken a young child to a funeral?

Image Source: leean_b via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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AshleyAdams66300 AshleyAdams66300 5 years
I really would have liked to have found the post by Katie M. on why she regrets taking her child to a funeral, but it wasn't there. Perhaps it was a mistake? In any case, I didn't see it. :/
FrancineCadieux FrancineCadieux 5 years
Yes, I have brought my daughter to a funeral (more then I care to think about). She was about 2 years old at the first one about 8 years ago and the last one she attended was a few weeks ago. Luckily (if I may use that word) none of the funerals have been for anybody close to her personally but I do believe that she will be better prepared when the time comes.
MarshaMais MarshaMais 5 years
Many years ago, when my first daughter was 2 months old, one of my bests friend's baby 4 month old passed away from SIDS. I never took my little girl out of respect on that aspect. More recently, I had the same tragedy happen to me, losing my 15 week old to SIDS. That morning, though I tried to hide my girls in their room to protect them, 1 if not both of them saw their baby sister's face when my husband carried her out. That's enough death for them. I didn't think it was needed for them to go to her wake/ sending ritual and memorial service.
VasantaKnight VasantaKnight 5 years
This was a good article. My 2 yr old did go to 2 visitations. One was of our beloved minister of our church. All she said was he went bye bye. I later told her that he is with God and he is watching you everyday. The 2nd one of my dearest friend/ former co worker. She said to the lady's husband: " with God" he loved it so much. Kids somehow understand more than we give them credit for. I just explain it as that God has them and they are all watching her in God' s arms.
TracyWoodman TracyWoodman 5 years
We've taken our children to funerals from the beginning. If I remember correctly, their first funeral was at ages 4 & 3. It was a great grandpa whom they had the pleasure of helping him with physical therapy just a few months prior. They still talk about him. The reason we have taken them so early is that I experienced a death as a child. I actually found the body of a loved one and was not allowed to go and say Good Bye. Being torn away from the house is something that has bothered me for several decades. One day, I plan to go to the gravesite, if I can find it and pay my respects. Now as a members of the VFW's Honor Guard, we attend funerals for the 21 gun salute and our children tag along. While waiting for the families to arrive, our children walk the cemetary paying respects to people they don't know.
MichelleONeil63033 MichelleONeil63033 5 years
I took my 3 year old son only to the calling hours of someone he didn't see much although the person was his aunt. It was a closed casket and to be brutally honest he handled it well. We have told him his Aunt Tammy was on a cloud looking down him with his grandma. He is good with it.
Tami3573633 Tami3573633 5 years
My grandfather passed away when I was 7. He was having surgery and never made it. My 3 sisters and I were shipped off to family friend's and totally excluded from any of the viewing or funeral services. That was 34 years ago, and I still resent my mother for not letting me say goodbye to my Grandfather. We were very close, and I feel I was excluded from soemthing very important to my grieving process. I miss him everyday, and still cry when I think about him. It's like he went to the hospital and just disappeared. I think children need the closure of the funeral in order to deal with the loss. My children were at my grandmother's funeral at ages, 5 and 1. There was no body present, she had been cremated, but I wanted them there so they could say goodbye. I also took my youngest, then 2 months old to a funeral, because I was breastfeeding and had no sitter. No one seemed to have an issue with his presence. We all have to deal with death at one time in our lives, I say the earlier the better. The last thing you want is for the first funeral your children are exposed to is their own parents, and I've seen that happen. None of my kids have shown signs of being traumatized by being at a funeral. It's life, we have to deal with it.
JenniferScheper83708 JenniferScheper83708 5 years
When my uncle died this past year I brought my 2 week old with but left my 1 yr old at home. I didn't think that my 1 year old would be able to sit still for the funeral and I needed to be able to say goodbye to him properly. Many people seemed surprised that I brought an infant but just as many people thanked me for bringing a ray of sunshine into an otherwise cloudy day.
MarySherwood93394 MarySherwood93394 5 years
Sadly when I was 11 y/o, my father died quite suddenly of cancer. I am the eldest of 4, who at that time were (11, 8, 7 and ). My sister and I (8 at the time) were allowed to visit him just prior to his passing when he was in ICU (Intensive Care Unit), and all four of us attended his funeral. It was definitely the right thing for our mother to do, even looking back, it gave a finality to it all. Sadly my brother passed away suddenly 2 years later and again we all attended his funeral and some of his class-mates did as well (9 y/o). None of us want our children to go through death and grief, but sadly it is a fact of life and being open, honest and allowing that final goodbye is one of the most important aspects of the grieving process and to 'move on'. Whether or not we choose to allow them to attend the graveside or cremation service, they should at least have some opportunity to say their own goodbyes.
JenniferGibson84484 JenniferGibson84484 5 years
just went to a funeral with my daughter a few weeks ago. My aunt recently passed away, my daughter cheered me up whenever i was upset, so i was glad to bring her along with me. :)
ChrisSchulze ChrisSchulze 5 years
i remember when my family went to my grandfathers funeral I was young about 6 or 7 I think. I didn't know him real well but I knew that he was family and was very hurt that I wasn't included. That being said: when my grandmother passed away I was a wreck I had an old friend of mine watch my 1 yr old mostly cuz she would freak out like someone had stabbed her whenever I would cry so once their out of baby stage I would say anything over 3 shouldn't be excluded.
SusanWilson SusanWilson 5 years
I truely believe that children should learn that death is a part of life...losing a pet, or grandparent, etc. helps to strengthen them for disappointments later in life. They will ask questions, but if you answer them honestly, share your faith, it's like "where do babies come from?" Give them what they can handle!
AprilJenkins69947 AprilJenkins69947 5 years
we lost our daughter in Sept 2010 my other daughter was 4 at the time. she came to the hospital and held her baby sister and went the the veiwing and to the burial. some people didn't think that we should have involved her but i didn't want her to think that i went to the hospital and didn't bring her baby sister home. things would probably have been different but we lost her sister at 38weeks so she was fully developed and just looked like a sleeping baby. i think my daughter has always handled death well but we have always explained things to her also. she was also attending a catholic school at the time that still is allowed to pray and she said prayers alot for her baby sister. it should always be the parents choice no one knows a child better than their parents.
ChristinaCarter53953 ChristinaCarter53953 5 years
I lost my Grandmother in 2003. My girls were 4 & 5 at the time. One of my cousins said I should not have brought my children to the funeral. I think that she was dead wrong and I have no regrets for taking my children at all. Not only did they go to the funeral but they were with me at the hospital when my Grandmother passed away. The important thing was that my children were included and that we talked about my Grandmother's death in realistic terms. My kids had lots of questions which were somewhat difficult to answer. Luckily we had a great support team available in the way of Doctors, Nurses and Grief Counselors who were able to help us answer some of those tough questions. My children also went with my dad and me when we went to the funeral home to make arrangements for the funeral. The staff there were wonderful and explained to my children about the funeral service. By the time of the funeral my children were comforted by knowing that their questions had been answered. Unfortunately death is a reality that we must all face. It is my responsibilty as a parent to teach my children about this reality even if I am grieving. I have always been of the belief that children are little people and should be treated as such. Children ask questions and by asking the questions they learn. Respect them by being as honest as you possibly can. If you don't know the answer to their questions, seek out someone that may be able to give them an answer.
VilmaCollins VilmaCollins 5 years
My daughter who is now 2 has been to 4 funerals. We include her in life's most important events.
ChristinaPeterson67328 ChristinaPeterson67328 5 years
I lost my 31 year old brother five years ago. My son was three at the time and extremely close to him. My husband and I chose not to take my son to the wake because we did not want his last memory of his uncle to be that of him in the coffin. Instead, it was of Uncle Frank having dinner with us the week before and playing tackle Uncle Frank after our shared meal. We did explain that his uncle had died and what that meant to him in language he could understand. I still believe that was the right decision. We have taken all three of our children (now 8, 6, and 4) to the wake/funerals of older family members who have passed. I believe it is an important to prepare them for the day when they lose one of their great grandmothers, both 90.
CoMMember13610555605014 CoMMember13610555605014 5 years
no would not until at least 10yrs old
BrandyCombellick BrandyCombellick 5 years
Our 7 yr old son and my 3 yr old nephew attended the funeral of our 2 mo old son who died of SIDS. My son was oddly quiet at his brothers viewing and never has said much about what he saw that day but he understands where his brothers body is verses where his spirit is. My nephew now almost 5 still has a hard time with understanding where Baby Rayce is. He recently asked his mom his cousin was gonna come out of the ground to play. I do not regret that my son attended the viewing or the funeral. The same goes for my sister. Neither of the boys seem disturbed by what they "saw". Despite my nephews confusion now someday it will all make sense to him.
GayeDurst GayeDurst 5 years
The only time I have exluded a child from a funeral was when she was only six months old. I think at that age it would be to emotional as that is all a baby has to go on. We did take her to the reception that followed and her presence soothed others. A poignant reminder. Both of my children have been at differnt ages and varying degrees of closeness. Both children are very different types of mourners and needed different things feom us adults. Just stay in tune. If this might be diffjcult I suggest bringing the sitter I've seen this help others.
brendahull46982 brendahull46982 5 years
I think it depends on who's funeral, the age of the child, and if the child even knew who passed away. I've been to a few funerals in which the case the children that were there maybe shouldn't have been. A parent should consider what their child may or may not be able to handle or understand.
Brandi2680125 Brandi2680125 5 years
My grandpa's funeral was two weeks ago yesterday. My 13 yr old son went with me, but I kept my 6 yr old daughter in school and left my 3 yr old and 2 yr old sons with a sitter. My daughter knows that he died, but I don't think she was mature enough to behave at the funeral. Of course my two littlest ones wouldn't have understood.
SimoneMcSweeney SimoneMcSweeney 5 years
Both my children attended the funeral of their beloved Grandfather that they were so close to. My son at the time was 5 and my daughter 3. My son was old enough to understand a bit of what was going on and my daughter didn't understand. The main thing for them was understanding it was a time for all of us to come together and say good bye to a soul we all loved dearly! They both remember this now 18 months later and often talk about him being up in the sky as one of the stars. I'm glad they knew what was going on... it would have hurt them even more if they didn't. They were able to grieve in their own way like the rest of us!
KelleyWorkman KelleyWorkman 5 years
my husband of 20 yrs passed away in an auto accident. we have five children ages at the time (2010) 14,13,11,8,4; it was difficult but i explained what had happened and how he did not suffer and that his "voice" was gone to heaven...not he was sleeping...that is advice i was given as welll as be honest within reason of what they could understand but to make sure they understood he would not be walking through the back door was unbelievable painful but now a year has passed and I know i did the right thing...i took them in one by one to see him in the casket, i burried him in his favorite wakeboarding trunks, ed hardy shirt and flip flops..i think it made them feel more comfortable that he looked like dad looked..and that jesus just needed a good doctor in heaven...and that we would see him again when our time came. they all wrote letters and or drew pictures and we said our farewells and closed the casket..its never easy but i feel honesty was the best for our family. and peer to peer / group counseling has helped tremendously. must respect to those who have to make that decision.
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